Fraud of the Month – July

If serial home arson is an addiction, Patrick Wayne Bronnon belongs in a sober home. Instead he’ll stew for 78 years over his $1.7-million billing bender of torched and flooded homes he unleashed all around southeast Texas.

The Port Arthur man led the three-year fraud parade. His gang bought rickety, low-priced homes for as little as $25,000 and installed straw buyers. They took out expensive insurance policies that covered a new, up-to-code structure — and pricey contents that often didn’t exist. The policies guaranteed a healthy windfall whenever Bronnon’s gang wrecked a house.

A large posse of 40 cronies wanted part of his insurance action. They wrecked a dozen homes before the scheme came crashing down. In the process, Bronnon endangered the fire fighters who rushed to quell the arson blazes.

Ring fronts payments

Bronnon often fronted the downpayment and first insurance premiums. Then he or ring members burned or flooded the houses within just weeks of buying the policies.

Bronnon broke the water pipe of one home, flooding the place. His straw home owner claimed the pipe accidentally burst. Next Bronnon lied that thieves stole more than $29,000 of possessions while the water-soaked house was being repaired. Furniture, construction materials, tools, an air conditioner unit, appliances, cabinets and personal items were falsely claimed as stolen.

Bronnon burned yet another home. The straw owner said she was frying pork chops, then had chest pain, went to the hospital and forgot about the pork chops. The frying meat ignited and finished off the home, she claimed.

Foil-wrapped chicken cooking in a microwave supposedly ignited when the owner left and forgot about the chicken. A faulty hotplate purportedly caused yet another fire.

The City of Port Arthur took the fall for another flood claim. A faucet was left in the open position when the city began water service, causing the home to flood, the owner claimed.

Claimed phantom burglaries

Bronnon added icing by claiming hefty losses for burglaries that never happened. Someone entered a home through the garage while he was out, Bronnon’s “owner” told his insurer. The burglar stole numerous items worth more than $80,000, including high-end clothes and electronics. Many possessions were the same goods that ring members claimed in other setup burglaries.

Insurance money piled in through a kind of side door. Many firms the so-called owners hired to repair the fire and water damage were owned by Bronnon or his cronies.

His gang also branched into staged vehicle crashes. A crony said he was driving his 1990 Lincoln Town Car on Highway 73 near Port Arthur. He tried to switch lanes. An H2 Hummer driven by a woman was in his blind spot and they collided, the crony driver said. The Hummer veered off the road and collided with a sign.

In fact, the Town Car driver deliberately ploughed into her Hummer, and the Hummer driver rammed the sign on purpose. On top of that, Bronnon drove the Hummer, not his female ring member, so he could better control all the crash details.

“This sentence is deserved not only because of the tremendous loss to insurance companies, but also in light of the danger Bronnon imposed on our first responders every time he set a fire,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox. “That he put his own greed ahead of the lives of others has cost him his freedom for a long time.”

About the author: Jim Quiggle is senior director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.